Mumbai: The Ministry of Law and Justice is allocated only 0.1% of the union budget, our analysis of budget documents shows, and over half of this amount is spent on election-related expenditure.

While other ministries like the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Ministry of Women and Child Development (ministry of WCD) also fund schemes that support law enforcement agencies in the states, a number of these schemes have remained underutilised over the years.

A common issue across states is that the budget is inadequate, and that is juxtaposed with the underutilisation of the funds that are available, said Valay Singh, project lead for the India Justice Report (IJR), which analyses the performance of India's justice system, and is published by the Tata Trusts and its partners.

In this explainer, we break down the Central government's allocations towards India's justice system and how these funds are being spent.

Centre and state allocations for India's justice system

The state governments as well as the Centre are responsible for funding different facets of elections, the judiciary, law enforcement, prisons and legal aid. The states fund the expenses of local establishments, such as the high courts and the lower courts, state police departments and prisons. The Centre supports the expenses of the central establishments, such as the Supreme Court of India, Central Armed Police Forces such as the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Border Security Force (BSF). It also finances Centre-run autonomous bodies, including those for research and development, Central Sector Schemes--projects fully sponsored and implemented by the Centre, such as that for e-Courts--and Centrally Sponsored Schemes, which are funded partly by the Centre and executed by the state.

The expenditure budget for the judiciary is raised by the Ministry of Law and Justice and the expenditure for law enforcement is under the head of the police department, part of the MHA. The MHA also includes expenditure for prisons.

Schemes for safety of women and children, which require involvement of law enforcement, are a part of the budget allocation of the WCD ministry.

As much as 92% of the net expenditure of the judiciary is borne by the states, according to a 2018 report by the Centre for Budget Governance and Analysis (CBGA), a New Delhi-based think-tank and DAKSH, a Bengaluru-based civil society organisation .

The union Ministry of Law and Justice submits three demands for grants--the expenditure of the ministry for central establishments and schemes, the Supreme Court's expenditure budget and the expenditure budget of the Election Commission of India (ECI). Combining all three, the allocation for the law and justice ministry is 0.1% of the total budget estimate of the Union budget 2022-23. Compared to the revised estimates for 2021-22, it has dropped by 16% to Rs 4054.94 crore. Of this amount, the highest share of expenses is related to elections. Over half of the allocation within the grant for law and justice is related to election expenses transferred to the states, in addition to the grant for the election commission.

Budget cut for national mission for justice delivery

The budget estimate for the Central Sector Scheme, the National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms, was reduced by 70% compared to the revised estimates of 2021-22. This umbrella scheme was set up in August 2011 to reduce delays in the system and enhance accountability by setting performance standards. The projects in this umbrella scheme include e-Courts (Phase II & III), Action Research and Studies on Judicial Reforms, and Designing Innovative Solutions for Holistic Access to Justice in India (DISHA).

The e-Courts Integrated Mission Mode Project (e-Courts IMMP) is a part of the National e-Governance Plan, being implemented for universal computerisation of all district and subordinate court complexes, which includes installation of hardware as well as software to provide basic services to litigants and lawyers, in a phased manner. It has been particularly relevant in the context of virtual judicial proceedings during the pandemic.

The Phase-I of eCourts IMMP concluded in 2014 in which 13,672 court sites were computerised, at a cost of Rs 639.14 crore. Phase-II of the project started in 2015 with an outlay of Rs 1,670 crore, of which Rs 1,611.19 crore had been released by the Government until December 2021. About 18,735 district and subordinate courts were computerised in the second phase.

The aim of the third phase includes a digital case registry, a repository of case law, intelligent scheduling of cases, a digital case management system, an interoperable criminal justice system, e-filing of cases and open digital hearings. This phase has been allocated Rs 1 crore, the first such allocation to the third phase. In April 2021, the Supreme Court e-committee submitted the draft vision document for e-courts Phase III, based on which the budget estimates are expected to be revised upwards, said Singh.

In part, budgeting practices for the earlier phases of this project mean that the project has been running with a delay, according to a December 2018 report by CBGA. In 2007, the first phase of the e-Courts project was approved with a budget of Rs 442 crore, which was more than doubled and revised to Rs 935 crore in 2010. The budget for e-Courts has been repeatedly and drastically revised, the CBGA report says, indicating imprecision in budgeting techniques.

Slow implementation of Gram Nyayalayas Act

As an effort to provide citizens access to justice, the central government had enacted the Gram Nyayalayas Act in 2008, to establish Gram Nyayalayas at the panchayat level. The Centre funds the initial non-recurring expenses up to Rs 18 lakh per Gram Nyayalaya and 50% of the recurring expenses upto Rs 3.2 lakh annually for the first three years. The state government is responsible for establishing Gram Nyayalayas in consultation with their High Courts using the Central funding. In 2019-20 and 2020-21, this fund was not utilised, show data from the Budgets for Justice initiative, by Agami and Civic Data Lab's platform JusticeHub and nonprofit Civis, that brings together union and state budget data for these schemes.

The pace of establishment of the Gram Nyayalayas has been slow, and as against the target of 2,500 Gram Nyayalayas, only 476 were notified in 15 states/UTs, of which 276 were operational in 10 states, as per this February 2022 reply to the Lok Sabha. Based on a NITI Aayog recommendation, the government extended the scheme for five years from April 2021 to March 2026, with a budgetary outlay of Rs 50 crore. In the 2022-23 budget, no budget was allocated to this scheme.

IndiaSpend contacted the Ministry of Law and Justice regarding the allocation for e-courts phase III as well as under-utilisation of funds for Gram Nyayalayas. We will update this story when they respond.

NALSA receives 17% more

Among the autonomous bodies funded by the Centre, the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) budget grew by 17% to Rs 170 crore. NALSA's aim is to improve access to justice, by providing free legal aid to minorities, with the help of paralegal volunteers. The landmark Supreme Court judgement to recognise transgender identity was a result of a case filed by NALSA in 2014.

Underutilisation of the fund for police force modernisation

The total Union budget for the police department in 2022-23 is nearly Rs 1.2 lakh crore. Almost 87% of this is spent on the Central Armed Police Forces and other central agencies.

Funds under the modernisation of police forces are also used for the Crime and Criminal Tracking Networks and System (CCTNS), projects under Inter-State Police Wireless and for ePrisons.

The utilisation of funds for this programme in states and UTs fell from 75% to 41% between 2017 to 2019, according to IJR 2020. This scheme is allocated only 0.5% of the net police budget, but its allocation increased by 158% compared to revised estimates of 2021-22.

Yet, funds against allocation for most of the states could not be released in 2020-21 because of the unspent balances out of the previous year releases, said a government press release from March 17, 2021.

"Funds available under various schemes from the Centre are typically earmarked for only very specific expenditures," said Singh, the project lead for IJR. "For instance, modernisation grants from the Ministry of Home Affairs to states can only be used for infrastructure, capacity building, repair and maintenance, etc. and cannot be used for resolving much-needed manpower requirements." The long-term underfunding has created historic manpower shortages over a number of years, he added, leading to a situation in which the government is unable to utilise the available funding effectively.

Education, training and research were allocated 0.3% of the union police budget in 2022-23, as part of establishment expenditure. Over five years (2012-16) on average, only 6.4% of the police have received in-service training. Over 90%, including those who deal with the public on a day-to-day basis, do not receive regular up-to-date specialised training after the first induction course, according to IJR.

Modernisation of prisons reintroduced in budget 2022-23

Prisons are a state subject, but the central government provides institutional support for carrying out prison reforms. The modernations of prisons scheme was first started in 2002-03, for construction of additional prisons and for repair, renovation and improvement of existing prisons. It used the allocated Rs 1,800 crore to build 119 new jails, 1,572 additional barracks in existing prisons, and 8,568 staff quarters for the prison personnel. The scheme had been discontinued in 2009, and was reintroduced in the revised budget of 2021-22. In the budget 2022-23, the scheme is allocated Rs 400 crore.

Schemes for women's safety important to make budget focused on prevention of crime

Schemes for women's safety, cyber crime prevention against women and children, and the Indian cyber crime coordination centre are relevant for making police more accessible and crime-prevention focussed, said Tvesha Sippy, an associate in Artha Global, a policy research and consulting organisation. In 2022-23, the Safe City Project, funded by the Nirbhaya fund, received three times the allocation of 2021-22.

The Ministry of WCD budget which goes towards law enforcement and judiciary, includes schemes such as One Stop Centres, Women's Helpline and Mahila Police Volunteers, and these have had low utilisation prior to 2021-22. These schemes are also a part of the gender budget, an effort to ensure all ministries include allocations for schemes focused on closing gender gaps.

In Budget 2020-21, these schemes were converged, along with 11 others, to form Mission Shakti. Though the overall programme has received more funding, it is unclear what the allocation and utilisation for sub-schemes is. "Multi sectoral convergence has led to less transparency in tracking the components of the gender budget, especially flagship programmes," said Lekha Chakraborty, an economist at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy and a researcher on the gender budget.

IndiaSpend contacted the Ministry of Women and Child Development regarding the availability of data for year-on-year fund utilisation of these schemes. The story will be updated when they respond.

Samriddhi, a Bengaluru-based researcher with CivicDataLab, contributed to this article.

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